Monday, September 10, 2012

Transphobia?

I have been the target of a misinformation campaign.  Since around 2009, whenever it is announced that I am invited to speak somewhere, a few people will write to the organizers to say that I should be disinvited because I am accused of being transphobic.

Though nothing substantive or new has been generated that presents transphobic views on my part, blogs and posts have proliferated that insist this is so. Like a fun house mirror, each claim mirrors in a distorted way something that has preceded it.

Over twelve years ago, in 2000, I spoke at the World Vegetarian Congress in Toronto. While showing The Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show I was challenged to be more sex-positive and accused of misunderstanding the condition of prostitutes.

Afterward, I met my challenger, Mirha-Soleil Ross, a well-known local trans activist and performance artist, and we discussed our differences. Two years later, in an interview, Mirha-Soleil Ross called me transphobic.  She did not supply any evidence to sustain that charge. Her interviewer did not challenge her or even ask her to explain. Mirha-Soleil Ross’s main concern was that feminists like me were comparing women who earned their living as prostitutes with animals.

We did not make the comparison; patriarchal culture did. Feminists like me wanted to explore, theoretically, why such comparisons exist, because we had been involved, on an activist level, with trying to end violence that we saw as arising from destructive attitudes that objectified and fragmented beings. The question I pursue is: Why do meat producers and advertisers gravitate to metaphors of prostitution and draw on pornographic images to promote dead animals’ bodies? Why are images of consumption conflated, associating dead animals and sexualized women? In analyzing this phenomenon, feminists like myself are not the ones who associated these two things; we are the ones who have been trying to expose and discuss and challenge this association. We had been working with children who were sexually abused, “groomed” for prostitution, who had been sexually trafficked, with battered women, and rape victims (men and women). I saw the consumption model as very dangerous to the lives of a multitude of beings.

Later, in 2005, Mirha-Soleil Ross accused me of outing her at the Toronto conference five years earlier. Among the things she complained about was that I only signed a birthday card to her with my name.   Her talk concentrated on why she disagreed with me about my analysis of sexual politics. She provides a very specific analysis of the Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show that I believe involves some misreading of the slide show and of myself. In 2011, I responded and indicated that I remember the conversations we had differently

Later still, based on Mirha-Soleil Ross’s 2005 summary of the 2000 interaction between us, another trans activist decided that I was one of the best examples of vegan-feminist transphobia and needed to be called out on it. There is nothing in my writings to support this claim because the claim is false. The only “evidence” is the report from Mirha-Soleil Ross.

There are some very complicated issues being pushed into one. There is my perspective on sex work and prostitution, and the way animals who are eaten are depicted in sexualized ways, and the way women who are seen as consumable in a patriarchal culture are “animalized.” At least one trans activist and sex worker disagrees with this position. But that does not make me transphobic.

Sadly, in 2007, Mark Karbusicky, Ross’s long-time partner, to whom she refers in her 2005 talk, committed suicide.  Since that time, from what I understand, she has been devoted to grief work and support. The proliferation of interest in this 2000 interaction and the 2005 report has all occurred subsequent to this change in Ross’s situation. I am very sorry for her loss and fully sympathize with her retreat from the conversation.

In 2011, I reflected on this issue of transphobia and these accusations within the larger context of thinking about how anthropormorphism works.

Immediately, a new charge was added: That I had made a comment in 2003 that all transsexuals should not exist. Take a deep breath and think about this: if a report of an outrageous comment made in 2003 only surfaces in 2011, is this a trustworthy report? No. How could something this outrageous, supposedly announced in a public venue with many witnesses, not surface and be denounced at the time it ostensibly occurred? To me, this new charge was a sign of desperation that did not deserve a reply given my forty years of non-violent activism.

With so little in the written record to support this libel against me, the other step was to create guilt by association: I studied with Mary Daly in the 1970s so I must be transphobic. Yet, I criticize Mary Daly in The Sexual Politics of Meat and don’t agree with everything she believed.  Feminists can and do disagree without being disrespectful of each other. It is true that my critics and I disagree in our analysis of sexual inequality, sexual politics, and gender construction. This disagreement does not mean I am intolerant, unsupportive, or transphobic.

Transphobia is a violent, hateful horrible system; it often ends in the injury, imprisonment, and death of trans gendered people. I believe the accusations against me are not just wrong, but misguided; they prompt a misfocusing of energy and attention. Friends, there is a hateful world out there—campaigns against women’s basic rights (however one defines woman), anti-gay politics, ignorance of intersectionality that reinscribes intersectional oppressions. Just look at the Republican Presidential ticket: Paul Ryan is transphobic. His policies are indeed dangerous.

I sense that younger feminists have been encouraged toward a view that dismisses second wave feminism. This creates on the one hand an ahistorical understanding of feminism while also allowing a certain response. It seems as though what is being said is “that Carol Adams, second wave radical feminist with her ‘old’ ideas--we need to teach her a lesson.” Yet, second wave radical feminism is the source for intersectional analysis. It is important to understand why that is.

Instead, a campaign of intimidation, harassment, and libelous charges occurs. It seems the main purpose is to keep me from speaking on college campuses or get me disinvited if I am speaking. Their goal is to silence me.

Libel was always around, but it's become easier for false information to be spread through blogs and responses to blogs, such that it trickles down and then gets re-posted on other forums like Reddit and facebook, and eventually makes it to larger blogs and plays a role in decisions made on college campuses and beyond. In activism and in life, by having the courage to ask direct questions rather than relying on potentially false Internet claims, we're more likely to arrive at the truth of any matter. By wanting to keep me off campus, the possibility of opened space for multiple views and politics to be expressed is closed off. Yet, dialogue is so important. If one is a theorist and activist one is constantly in dialogue. Feminism is an evolving discourse, which allows a multiplicity of views to be captured under the rubric of a concept. We have to learn to discuss these issues with each other and disagree with each other in ways that are constructive. Intersectionality means that there are multiple participants in any discussion about oppression.

Who benefits from this attempt to silence me and to intimidate people who work with me? Why is there an incapacity to trust readers or listeners to evaluate what they read and hear? By silencing the discussions before they happen, everyone involved is done a disservice.

There is some phobia going on.  I see a fear of trusting individuals to make their own decisions. I see a fear of making the discussions about our theoretical differences regarding sexual inequality and interconnected oppressions.

Because The Sexual Politics of Meat made me famous (or infamous) and is experienced as transformative by many, I became iconic. Icons make good targets.

Veganism is about compassion. There is nothing compassionate in repeating innuendo and supposition and guilt by association. Let’s find a more constructive way to have this discussion. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s remember that we are all also in very different stages in our education; that is how consciousness-raising works. I envision a vegan practice that is patient with each other as we discuss difficult issues, that looks for common ground and understanding.


20 comments:

  1. It's funny that you has taken this long to respond, and after all this time the only response you can think of is to play a victim in a "misguided" campaign by Mihra Soliel Ross. I was waiting throughout this whole blog for you to present her view of transexual people and politics, but you never do that which I find interesting. Carol if you hold transphobic views, I do not feel sorry that you feel silenced. Just because you are not "violent" towards trans people does not excuse transphobic "academic discourse". If you are not transphobic, than release a statement about your trans politics.

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    1. My personal guess is that the delay in response has to do with the fact, that not all accusations warrant a response, especially if you think they are unfounded in the first place. I'm curious why the 5 year delay in Mirha-Soleil Ross' accusations in the first place? It also seems pretty clear to me that Adams is being very transparent in her trans politics: "Transphobia is a violent, hateful horrible system; it often ends in the injury, imprisonment, and death of trans gendered people." Transphobia IS deadly and we should definitely be focusing our attention on transphobic organizations and policies that are directly endangering the safety and lives of trans people.

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    2. No we should focus on all transphobia, especially academic discourse that privileges cissexuals and informs organizations and policies.

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  2. This is,in large part, why veganism as a single-issue campaign has made virtually no difference in the escalating suffering, torture and killing of non human animals. Diversion from human self-centeredness and arrogance by those with little capacity for focus on the important and critical issue at hand- abolition. Attention seekers like Soliel Ross are common and of no help to anyone.

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  3. Anonymous said...
    Carol, Anyone who has read any of your books which are numerous, profound, provocative and well researched, can see clearly for themselves the meat industry's graphic sexually objectified examples of women paralleled with non human animals. Too bad some would rather attack the messenger and her personal integrity rather than take the time to research these facts for themselves - for these types it would take too much effort on their part. I discovered your publications in college libraries. The cruel and sad reality for the animals is that humans refuse to experience a paradigm shift to consciousness as it does not necessary follow it will happen when one is "ready". Rather, they prefer spinning words for surface value. This in turn affords them an ego trip. Really! Just ignore these people.

    September 11, 2012 1:43 PM

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  4. I find it problematic how we all attack each other. I have found Carol Adams to be one of the only writers I have written to who has responded, and responded with humility. I remember reading a lot of the stuff online about her being transphobic, and it was a let down because I loved her books. So, I talked to her about it. And she explained some of this to me and asked for other examples. It was a nice conversation.

    If people would just talk once in a while and see each other as people instead of tools to convert or whatever we often tend towards seeing each other, we could accomplish a lot.

    I disagree with a lot of my radical friends on some things. And we're still friends.

    Also, I have a big problem with people who hold others to things they said a decade ago. Imagine if everything YOU said a decade ago was in public record and people could all use it against you forever whether you have changed or grown or not. I know I'd be in big trouble if everything I did and said at 19 was public knowledge.

    Give each other room to grow.

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  5. You mention that you don't agree with Mary Daly on everything, but I believe the issue is that elsewhere you've praised her for her biophilic vision. Can you clarify if you agree with her on how she applied it to trans people?

    I believe that is the area that people are concerned about and if you disagree with how the biophilic vision is applied to trans people, it would help a lot to say so specifically or even go into detail about how you think that analysis was flawed.

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    1. Thank you for this question, Tobi, and for reading the blog. As I understand Mary's writing, no I don't agree with the way it was applied to trans people. I'd like to respond more fully in another blog, so that I can do both the question and the answer justice.

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  6. Just a minor comment.

    The proper term is "transgender" rather than "trans gendered". The form of the word with -ed implies a process or action, one that has already come to pass: that someone USED to be one gender, and now is another. This is not true of most trans* people, many of whom felt they were their real gender the entire time. The adjective form, instead, says that the person in question was considered Y gender at birth, but is actually Z gender.

    This is often confused by those not within the community, but I thought I'd let you know for the future.

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate that you read the blog and your comment is helpful.

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    2. Many folks say that there should also be a space between trans and gender as well so it does not other trans* folks by putting them in a "transgender" category while putting cis people in a "gender" category.

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  7. "We have to learn to discuss these issues with each other and disagree with each other in ways that are constructive. Intersectionality means that there are multiple participants in any discussion about oppression."

    This is such an important point. Thank you for making it so eloquently.

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  8. Carol, isn't it true that, in the past, you have prohibited transgendered people from being members of or taking leadership roles in Feminists for Animal Rights? There would be no record of evidence for this, as it took place in private conversations with the activists involved.

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  9. As it evolved, Feminists for Animal Rights had debates about many different issues, including the relationship between groups in cities that were seeking affiliation with FAR and who could be listed as being a "member" of FAR. As for my role in "prohibiting" transgendered people, I never had that power in FAR. First of all, FAR worked by consensus, and I was not one of the people on the organizational board. I believe that if FAR had stayed active it probably would have evolved to a different position than it held in the 1990s. I would be happy to discuss this further with you if you would like to email me. My email can be found at my website www.caroljadams.com

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  10. hello admin. i'm from istanbul. i like this post. thanks for sharing.

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  13. Thank you for your thoughtful replies. You've convinced me that you are definitely not transphobic, however in discussions on fb you are accused of being trans-exclusive in your research and publications. The claim is that trans people have historically been left out of academic study and that you have failed to amend that in current discussions or adjust your thinking to accommodate trans people in in your work. The argument is that this encourages and empowers the already widespread institutional transphobia in academia.
    I'd love to hear your response to these accusations as I feel it's unfair to not hear both sides of the argument. Thanks!

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